Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, July 30, 2010

three days of the iPad

1) If you're just browsing the web, and don't need to look at any Flash sites, it’s hard to beat. Fast and smoothly intuitive. You can't switch pages as quickly as you can switch tabs on a standard web browser, though, which can be a little awkward at times. But the double-tap-to-zoom-text thing, borrowed from the iPhone, is brilliant. It makes the wonderful Readability and Safari 5’s Reader feature completely unnecessary.

2) Gmail on the iPad is very cool: a combination of the built-in Mail app’s two-pane system with Gmail’s conversation view.

3) If I end up using this thing much, other than for travel, it will probably be to make Keynote presentations for class. (And for class use more generally.) I’ve tried creating a few sample Keynotes, and moving content around — copying and pasting links and images, for instance — is pretty awkward right now: lots of tapping. But in this case I don't think it’s a design problem, but rather a UI I’m not really used to. I expect it will get better with time.

The question will be whether the portability and usability of the iPad make it worth my trouble to deal with an extra gadget, when I can just make Keynote presentations on my MacBook and carry that to class. Right now the iPad feels like it may be one gadget too many — but if (when?) Apple comes up with a way to transfer files seamlessly and wirelessly between Macs and iPads, via a Dropbox-like system, then we’ll be golden. I think we’re headed towards a time when people can have multiple devices that stay in constant sync with one another, so whichever one you happen to pick up will have the resources you need (adapted to the limitations of the device, of course). That’ll be a good day — at least for those who aren't worried about living in the Cloud.

4) The on-screen keyboard is okay, but awkwardly sized, as can be seen even in Apple’s promotional videos. It’s too big to type thumbstyle, too small to type conventionally (and there’s nowhere to rest your palms). So your hands have to hover over the screen and peck gently at the keyboard, like especially delicate little birds. I have an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, and that works fine, but you have to go into the Settings and pair it with the iPad, then unpair it when you’re done to reactivate the on-screen keyboard. That’s cumbersome.

There are no serious text-editing apps for the iPad; I wonder whether there ever will be. This is an issue for me because I detest proprietary text formats and avoid them at all costs. As I have noted before, I write almost everything in plain text with Markdown formatting, and since I wrote that earlier post I have pretty much abandoned Pages and write anything I need to print out in LaTex. Nothing about my research-and-writing workflow is compatible with the iPad, and I can't see that it ever will be.

5) As a book-reading device it has virtues and vices. I've used the Kindle app, and the size of the screen solves many of the Kindle's typographical nightmares, but the iPad is HEAVY. That becomes a real problem after a while. Reading with one hand is not an option for the long term unless you're wanting to body build as you read. The iPad’s highly reflective screen makes it impossible to read anything on it not only outdoors but any place where there’s strong direct light. Marco Arment nails these problems and others, but Marco is also the maker of Instapaper, one of the greatest web services evar, and Instapaper looks utterly magnificent on the iPad.

6) You can't use an iPad without hooking it up to another computer first, but this is just plain stupid.

Overall: it’s cool. It’s magnetically attractive. But it won't help me do much of what I need to do, and I kinda wish I didn't have it.

10 comments:

  • Alan, to get the onscreen keyboard when the Bluetooth keyboard is around, press the eject button on the keyboard.

  • Also dropbox works just fine on iPad. It is my preferred syncing method.

  • While I haven't spent as much time with the iPad as you have, Alan, I concur with a lot of what you have found, even from my limited use. Yup, it's a pretty cool device, but is it really necessary? Personally, I need a real computer with real software. Watered-down versions don't do me any good, but for the casual user, who doesn't mind the limitations, it might be tolerable. That said, if I were a road warrior, it might be a great tool for email and surfing. But I spend the majority of my life between two points, only 2 miles apart, and at both points I have serious computers waiting for me. And for the rare times I'm away from them, I've got my iPhone. Thanks for your review. It will be interesting to see if it changes in the months ahead.

  • Thanks, Scott! And if you dismiss the on-screen keyboard does the Bluetooth one become functional again?

  • Never mind, I figured it out. Nice!

  • “... unless you're wanting to body build as you read.”

    Thank you, Alan; you have just provided the rationale I can use to justify an iPad. "But honey, I'm burning calories while I browse!”

  • You could probably easily re-sell it and get most of your money back. There's a waiting list most places around here.

    (As an assistive technology device for nonverbal communicators, it's a leap forward in weight and price reduction. Now to get Medicaid to cover it, instead of insisting on $7,000 dedicated devices.)

  • I also wish the keyboard was different, with bolder letters for the slightly visually impaired.

  • The Bluetooth keyboard remains active even if the onscreen keyboard is showing.

    I think an adequate text editor will show up soon. I want a good text editor for html, css, php, etc. and found a very promising app called Gusto. It needs code syntax coloring, but the developer has added features quickly so I have hope that this will come soon. One nice feature of Gusto lets you open multiple documents at the same time.

    Dropbox works great on the iPad and iPhone. From the Dropbox app you can view most documents and/or choose what app to open them in. This is a nice way to move PDFs to iBooks.

  • Ok, one last post. Check out Droptext. It is a plain text editor that can open, edit and save docs in your Dropbox account. They have an introductory price of $0.99.

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